I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Maybe it’s no surprise with my background in drama, but I LOVE pretend play. I remember playing pretend like it was yesterday, they are some of my fondest childhood memories. Playing pretend was my world as a kid, and now that my eldest is getting into the preschool years and his language skills are advancing, so is his imagination. But he didn’t always initiate pretending like he does now.
At first I initiated pretend play, and it started small and simple. Kids as young as one (or even younger) start to use dramatic play in simple ways like pretending to stir a pot with a spoon or putting a phone to their ear. You can help them along by saying “hello?” into the phone or showing them how to stir or other cooking actions. Reading has also been shown to foster imaginative play, as well as discussing the world around you with your child. To be honest, a lot of Superman’s most complex pretends started from movies he watched. His first real pretend game was of swiping an invisible card and sneaking through a door to his a bed, then pretending to scare whoever was sleeping there. Maybe we had watched Monster’s Inc a few too many times?? Whether inspired by movies or books, kids can pick up ideas for pretend play from anywhere and everywhere. But I tell you, the magic starts around age three. That’s when their ideas seem to come more from themselves than outside sources.
Just before his third birthday Superman’s imagination and ability to play pretend exploded. That is when he started creating his own fantasies and acting them out. Sometimes I’m invited in, sometimes I am requested to leave the world he has invented, and either way I comply. If he asks me to play I drop what I’m doing if I can and I join in, allowing him to show me what he has imagined. If I try to play and he tells me no, I agree and leave him be. There are many battles to be fought in parenthood, but making him let me be a part of whatever his game is, is not something that needs to be argued over. If he is content to play on his own than that’s great! It’s part of imaginary play, actually. Sometimes kids want us to explore with them, but sometimes they are learning about themselves and the world around them in a way that needs to be done independently.
Playing pretend with a kid is so magical. Watching as they create their own world and characters is not only fun, but good for them! Dramatic play has long been praised for encouraging independence, social skills and language skills. It is in those moments of being immersed in their pretend world they can really explore being someone else, and imagining something is there that is not. One of Superman’s favorite games is “dinos” in which we explore the backyard for dinosaurs and try to rid us of the infestation with bows and arrows. One time while playing, Superman almost stepped in some dog poop and when I warned him he looked down, smiled and exclaimed “it’s dino poop!”
So while sometimes you might have absolutely no idea what in the heck your kid is playing, ask questions, play along (if they are looking for another pretender) and try to get in their world. Not only is this play developmentally good for your child, but for those small moments when you play too, you get to be a kid again. Soak it up. Let their world take you over. Oh, and watch out for the dino Poop!
An article with great references to research done on the benefits of pretend play in childhood!